Thursday morning, training with J. Funny, but after weeks and weeks of his congested tones, I had grown accustomed to the way he sounded congested and stuffed up. It seems odd to me now to recognize a different quality to his voice when we are talking and working.
When I was driving to the gym this morning and thinking about training today, I was idly wondering what we might be doing. J being sick on Monday, going on vacation next Wednesday (so no training next Thursday or the following Monday) means three straight weeks of single training days. I mean, I am well aware most of the rest of the tribe trains with him once a week, but my creature-of-habit-ness means I have given over to the twice per week pattern and is burned into my mind as our groove. When something else comes up – vacations, illness, holidays, wild hairs, phase of the moon – and our sessions are cut to once per week, it impacts me and the pattern we have established. My thought was today’s session should just have some fun, throw out the List of the day and just work at whatever J’s test kitchen comes up with in the moment. As it happens, that is what we did.
We began our day with J’s loosey-goosey plan to go through, update, enhance an older plexes List, only we would be focusing on adding weight and lowering reps on certain choice exercises. I say “loosey-goosey” because we had an hour today and we would not be reviewing again this week. It’s also me, which we can play it by ear and I’m neither going to complain or worry that I am somehow falling behind or worse. The training pattern as it has evolved works really well for me, and if we spend our next few single session per week going over choices exercises from this plexes List I am content with that. As it was we did not approach the weightier weights much, although at the rate we are moseying along we may someday soon be downstairs in or around the big boys’ room where the heavier than 30 lb. dumbbells reside. No rush at all, but it seems a natural progression.
It does not take a large number of exercises or multiple blocks of plexes to get my huffy puffy going. From what we did today, there were no straw or stick houses safe from my huffing and puffing.
No matter how well I think I know something, no matter how proficient or competent I may feel, there is always another tweak or change that affects the way an exercise feels to me. Funny how J cannot yet read my mind – he really needs to work on that. (*smile*) But I said something about I should know the things we were fine-tuning and digging into today and through is mantle of experience and philosophical studies heard that as “ought” or my own near and dear negative girl’s enunciation of “should” in this context. I actually meant it as I should learn and know about these things because going forward, into the future and building upon them, they will be the little tricks and tweaks and more perfected form that may save me from potential injury. They are subtleties I should have in my toolbox.
While this was not a teaching day, not a review day, and not even a technical review day – those are the normal series of steps that come with new exercises – it was more a skills review and enhancement day. Love that. These are all things that have shown up in one form or another on various Lists as the weeks and months have passed, and I have done well and become capable. New plateau approaches.
My idea of “fun” in training is relative. I love all of it, even if I actually despise some of the exercises I am learning or we are reviewing – there is always at least one that is either on the nemesis List or has been in the past. Does not seem to matter; little professor living in my mind likes the challenge that comes with learning and striving to improve and perfect. I suppose there could be a day when I’m sitting down to write a recap and bitching, moaning, complaining about how much I hated every single second of what we went through. It could happen. And someday pigs will be flying through sky under their own power and delivering packages from Amazon enroute to becoming pork chops and ham steaks. I have fallen hard and madly in love with exercise; anything seems possible to me now.
What We Did
Power squats (20 lb. dumbbells)
Bulgarian split squats
Stiff-leg dead lifts (30 lb. dumbbells)
How It Felt
If I stop and think about it, I would be almost embarrassed about going through four exercises in our 60 minute allotment of time, especially things I am mostly very familiar with. But nah – not my style, not for a very long time.
Today was actually a lot about basic skills I know and should integrate more deeply into my routines. While we talk a lot about pretensioning the muscles, it is still pretty far from automatic for me. Then there are the small adjustments that make for a smoother, more consistent movement pattern. Or the many ways I overthink the exercises that intimidate me.
The power squats – been awhile since we have been here looking closely at these. It was timely that this came up today, because lately here, I have been examining what my knees are doing and what direction they are pointing when doing squats. There are moments when I ponder using a mini band around the legs to ensure I feel those knees pointing in the correct direction. On the power squats, they are relatively straightforward. Squat down in a controlled manner, then power up on the elevation portion. Like pop tarts (because just plain toast is boring for the purpose of this analogy). Usually I think pop tarts when these are combined with an overhead press, but in reality the pop tart analogy is applicable here as well. We did these with 20 lb. dumbbells today, although I do believe the intent is to eventually utilize the weightier weights for lower rep sets.
J initially taught me to do inchworms as a substitute for the burpees that continually appeared in my Sunday morning pilates classes, and they have remained a standard for any List where burpees might appear, primarily the cardio-focused or huffy puffy based. Honestly, want to see me at my most lumbering and awkward, cruise by for a gander at my inchworm technique. Not. Pretty. Today we worked at them pretty intensely and morphed them into a inchworm-hybrid, where I am starting to get the little jump at the end that is part of good burpee technique. In my mind, these have been renamed as baby burpees, where I walk it out like an inchworm, take a couple/few steps back toward raising myself back to standing upright, then bend knees and jump forward. Oh my – these are so hard. But like everything I have conquered and overcome in this journey and better health quest, I will just keep trying, keep practicing until body learns. Someday I may ever master the art of a burpee. For now, though, the inchworm/baby burpee will remain in my nemesis stable. They, along with my arch nemesis the push-up, will have to be things I do a few times per week outside the List of the day until the small improvements become more routine and second nature.
We went over a lot of things with Bulgarian split squats, everything from how to anchor the rear foot to how far to be away from the bench. We did a fair number of these, a lot of them bodyweight as I experimented and struggled to find the right spot for my foot on the bench, the distance between forward foot and the bench, and making the minute adjustments to improve my posture and form. I learned how to slide my foot back to the anchored sweet spot without stopping or lifting my foot in between reps, and I remembered to focus more on what the rear leg is doing rather than so exclusively on the forward leg on the floor. Exercises I struggle mightily with to learn and gain some proficiency with tend to stick with me. However, once I gain basic proficiency, it is easy to cling to just meandering along and getting through it. Bulgarians most definitely fall into this category. These are not easy, everyone I know seems to dislike these to greater or lesser degrees, and enhancing my skills only benefits me long-term.
The differences between a Romanian deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift were almost invisible to me before today, which is how it is when time passes between styles of doing various things. But I like that we go through the different methodologies from time to time. So, I had to really observe and listen to the differences and feel it in the actual doing. The hinge part I have down pretty well, but honestly, I was having a hard time recalling if I bend my knees doing Romanian deadlifts or not. However, I can feel the difference in these with the dumbbells being closer to my legs and extending deeper toward the floor. I have also been really trying to work my focus on the pretensioning the hamstrings and glutes and keeping everything tight all the way through for the lifting part. I can feel it in my lower back if I forget or allow myself to become distracted, and protecting my lower back is really important to me. J had me experiment with foot placement – who knew foot placement would become another obsessive point for me? There is a definite difference in my back when feet are too far apart on these, and I do find myself sometimes making minute adjustments with my feet if I am pretensioning the working muscles and still feeling something in my back.
Kitchen Sink Thoughts
Trainer J has been sidelined from exercise for almost a week, and now that he is finally feeling better, he really wants to get back to the gym and working out. Always energetic about demonstrating exercise and to illustrate what he is trying to get across to me, today there was this type of enthusiasm that was almost palatable. I can completely understand his eagerness to get back to his routines and how his body craves exercise, but I am also really glad that he is being smart about his health and taking it easy.
While these few weeks of single trainings per week is not ideal, but we make it work. I feel so unapologetically spoiled in my exercise routines. The life and lifestyle I lead is not flashy or exciting, and old friends are either whole heartedly in favor of my efforts or exhibiting destructive and sabotaging behavior. For the most part, I understand and perceive their actions as fear and anxiety. Unfortunately there is no reassurance I can offer that will comfort or satisfy their need for me and others in our social circle to stay precisely the same. Every choice we make, every action we take has consequences; my better health quest is all about making choices that will impact me and each of my days in more positive ways.
There are anecdotal stories all around me about short-term decisions that have avoidable long-term consequences. I’m mindful of that, particularly this week when I am watching a big scrape on my lower leg and the bruising that had developed there before it happened. Diabetics not taking adequate care of themselves while they still had options and having limbs amputated. Fear and anxiety about that fate befalling me far outweighs dealing with friends who worry about my judging them for their choices to continue pursuit of a less healthy aging process.
I am inspired by people making good choices. Little things, big things, trying, failing, trying again. Those who do not give up. Funny part of that, I am inspired by their stories and the ways they share their experiences and what they have learned along the way, yet I do not identify in ways that make me feel like I am on the same level or even close; it’s a place I aspire to reach.
One of the things training teaches me, how to control my fears and anxiety about exercise and my better health quest. Exercises I dislike? Not good at them – yet. Maybe not even competent much less proficient, and I still have some level of anxiety and fear every time I practice on my own. The reasons why are not always clear to me, because even when I mostly know what I am supposed to be doing, I have concerns about doing it right and not hurting myself. Those are quell-able. Then there are the very faint whispers that distract me and break my concentration and focus. Those are a lot more challenging.
Taming my mind to stay with the work lies in building my focus and concentration skills, which is why I appreciate J’s emphasis on pretensioning the working muscles and where I should be feeling the exercise effects. I have evolved into this level of form junkie just to keep my mind on what I should be doing and keeping my eye on the ball. For me, exercise is not an elective option; if I want anything close to a happy, healthy rest of my life. Better health means growing older gracefully, with all my limbs intact.
J asked me earlier if my legs were sore. No, not really, but my glutes feel like I have been sitting on a seat of icepicks from the work we did. That pretensioning and maintaining it – when we spend 60 minutes focused on that, it has an all-day impact.